By: Paul Murano – April, 2011
This month the world’s two billion Christians celebrate Easter, their biggest holiday of the year. I want to focus on three words posed as a question by Pontius Pilate just hours before the Easter resurrection event. According to historical records these three words make up the last question ever posed to Jesus before His death. This simple question represents the great quest of the ancient world and the proud cynicism of the modern one: “What is truth?”
While Pilate on that original Good Friday was interrogating Jesus as any cross-examiner might before judgment, he asked Christ who He was and why He was there. Jesus’ answer was clear: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth; everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (Jn 18:37). This reminds us Jesus describing Himself earlier in John’s Gospel: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one can come to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). Claiming to be one with the Father and promising to send the Holy Spirit, Jesus asserted Himself as the second Person of the eternal Trinity who took on a human nature to save mankind by conquering sin and death. John calls Jesus the eternal logos, which is Greek for reason or truth, indicating that Jesus is Truth personified. Hence the scene before Pilate was not only drama, but irony: Pilate is asking the question ‘What is truth?’ directly to Truth Himself.
Christians believe the resurrection on Easter Sunday changed the world. It signifies the beginning of a re-creation and glorification to be completed at the end of history. But those three words spoken by Pilate also echo throughout history, and today’s Pontius Pilates largely found in the media and academia add their own answer: There is no truth. What was once the cry of innocent ignorance from the ancient world is now the cry of cynical nihilism from the modern world. What was the mantra of a people who sincerely sought truth has now become the cry of rebellion from a people running from it. What was once a fear of darkness has become a fear of light.
The social evolution from Christendom to secular humanism in the contemporary west is easy to understand: It is the rebellion against the Answer to Pilate’s three-word question, motivated by the fact that the Answer came from above rather than from us. The seduction to be one’s own god, creating truth rather than conforming to it, goes back to the serpent in Eden tempting the first parents with the seductive lie that they “will be like gods” if they only first reject the real One. They can create their own reality if they reject Truth Himself.
This kind of destructive pride is what Christ came to save humanity from; yet over 2000 years later the rebellious shout of “What is truth!” is still as loud as ever, permeating society through the world of entertainment, journalism, and education. There is no truth, they claim, other than that which we decide to be true. Pontius Pilate could be the patron saint of secular humanism whose moral code is relativism, which is once again attempting to kill Christ.
In the U.S. the first branch of government to fall to “Pilate-ism” was the judicial, illustrated by the decision to create new “truths” about marriage and when human life begins. If we declare marriage to be a temporary arrangement or something different than what nature dictates, we create a new truth. If we invent a hormonal pill and declare that sex can be divorced from permanent bonding and babies – despite what is inherent in human nature – then so be it. And if we call an embryo or fetus a non-human being then poof, like gods, it all becomes reality for us.
Some may say the western world is going through an adolescent rebellion period against the Authority that served as the foundation for its rise to civility and prosperity. The Easter triduum reminds us of the simple choice we all must make: Conform to Truth and become like God or avoid it and become worse than animals. To quote Moses in the book of Exodus: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life.” This is modeled on Easter with the resurrection. The mystery of Easter is that Truth and Life are One and eternal.